New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
MASON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2018-029-048, Claim No. 128044

Synopsis

The pro se claim by an inmate alleged injuries resulting from an assault by correction officers. After a video trial, the court found defendant's version of competing stories more credible, adjudged defendant not liable, and dismissed the claim.

Case information

UID: 2018-029-048
Claimant(s): WILLIAM MASON
Claimant short name: MASON
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 128044
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: STEPHEN J. MIGNANO
Claimant's attorney: WILLIAM MASON, PRO SE
Defendant's attorney: ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, ATTORNEY GENERAL
By: Christina Calabrese, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: April 30, 2018
City: White Plains
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

The claim was filed pro se seeking damages for injuries claimant allegedly sustained when he was assaulted on September 29, 2015 by several correction officers at Coxsackie Correctional Facility ("Coxsackie"). Defendant asserts that claimant was acting violently so the officers subdued him with reasonable force. A video trial was held on March 15, 2018, with claimant and defendant at Coxsackie, and the court presiding from the courthouse in White Plains.

Claimant testified on his behalf, and defendant presented the testimony of Correction Officer ("C.O.") Jonathan Geddes. Claimant did not submit any exhibits. The court received into evidence one defense exhibit ("Exh." A), comprised of a certification and copies of an Inmate Injury Report, two "Interdepartmental Communications" noting to Sergeant ("Sgt.") Davidson that C.O. Riosie and C.O. Cantelmo accompanied claimant to the clinic at 5:12 p.m., and a brief memorandum by C.O. Pluckrose to Sgt. Davidson describing the incident.

Claimant testified that on September 29, 2015, he was in his cell when the gate opened. On seeing C.O. Geddes at the gate, claimant asked, "What happened?" The C.O. walked into the cell then grabbed him by his dreadlocks and neck. After claimant tried to push the C.O. away, he screamed for other officers. The others arrived and they all beat and cut claimant, after which Sgt. Davidson sent him to "the box."

On cross-examination, claimant described how "shower runs" work. A C.O. opens the cell doors and says "step out." The doors have a small window in them, about 8x11 inches. The door clicks, then slides open. Inmates are expected to shower around the end of the day, before dinner, but an inmate can decide not to shower, then close the gate. He did not recall there being a shower run the day of the incident.

C.O. Jonathan Geddes testified that he has been with DOCCS for eight years and is currently at Coxsackie. On September 29, 2015, around 5:00 p.m., he returned to the C-1 Block after the evening chow run and continued the shower run they had started earlier. There are 42 cells. He pulled a lever to open the cells, six to eight at a time. The doors slide open partially. After the six to eight are done showering, he opens more cells. Inmates may refuse to shower. If an inmate does not step out, the C.O. goes to the cell to check, which is what he did when claimant did not step out. After C.O. Geddes slid open claimant's door, claimant started punching him and they fought. The C.O. wrapped his arms around claimant and they ended up on the bed. The C.O. activated his personal alarm. Claimant tried to get up and the C.O. struck him on the side. After C.O. Geddes' partner and other officers responded, they subdued and handcuffed claimant.

There was no cross-examination of C.O. Geddes. The certified copy of the Inmate Injury Report dated September 29, 2015 (Exh. A) contains the following information: the time of injury was 5:08 p.m.; claimant was injured during an "Assault on staff"; claimant stated, "Officer didn't like what I was saying"; claimant's injuries included abrasions and scratches on both hands, swelling on the right side of his nose and a small abrasion, and pain in the area of his right "flank" (lower back). Claimant's abrasions were washed with soap and water.

A September 29, 2015 "Use of Force" memo from C.O. Pluckrose to Sgt. Davidson contains the following statements: C.O. Pluckrose was observing showers on C-Division on that date; he observed claimant hit C.O. Geddes in the face with a closed fisted punch; C.O. Pluckrose responded to the cell where he saw claimant face down on the bed violently struggling to get up; after several orders to claimant to put his hands behind his back, C.O. Pluckrose forced claimant's left arm behind his back and handcuffed him.

The court has considered all the evidence, including listening to the witnesses' testimony, observing their demeanor as they testified, and reviewing the documents filed by defendant as Exhibit A. Faced with two conflicting versions of the altercation, the court finds defendant's version more credible. Although the court is inclined to accept either witness' claim that the other threw the first punch without any provocation, C.O. Geddes' version of what occurred after the initial confrontation is consistent with the description of claimant's injuries in the report prepared by the clinic nurse at Coxsackie, and the description of the incident prepared by C.O. Pluckrose for Sgt. Davidson. If several officers had beaten and cut claimant to the extent he claims they did, he would have sustained more serious injuries. Moreover, he testified that he did not recall a "shower run" that day, even though they occur on a daily basis, and that after the beating he was taken to "the box," when the injury report and the other documents show he was taken to the clinic. Claimant failed to present prima facie evidence that he was assaulted by correction officers.

The court finds defendant not liable for assault and battery and dismisses Claim No. 128044. Let Judgment be entered accordingly.

April 30, 2018

White Plains, New York

STEPHEN J. MIGNANO

Judge of the Court of Claims